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International Real Estate - Saint Lucia

posted 12 months ago

Author

Michelle Anthony-Desir

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+1 758*****
Michelle Anthony-Desir
Athena Law

I have practiced in Saint Lucia since my call to the Bar in 1996. Over the course of my legal career I have engaged in practicing in a number of areas, including insurance, personal injury, family law, real estate, tourism investment and commercial law among others. Over the course of my practice, I have developed a specific appreciation for the nuances of real estate law, and the satisfaction that comes with successfully helping someone buy or sell a property.

Athena Law is a leader in property acquisition, investment and legacy planning in Saint Lucia for trailblazers and pioneers, who have accumulated wealth and are used to working with the best-in-class brands. Athena Law was conceived on the idea that there had to be a better way to engage in the practice of law and to create a better experience for those we serve. Our goal is to simplify legal concepts so that clients can better understand the steps required in their matter so that they feel more in control when making decisions.

At Athena Law, we offer a range of services to both private and corporate clients, which includes but is not limited to: negotiating sale and purchase agreements, advising on the best method of acquisition, drafting the legal documents needed to make these sales official, advising on and applying for Aliens Landholding Licences, providing guidance during the mortgage process and advising on government incentives.

The majority of our clients are non-nationals, drawn from all over the world. We pride ourselves on creating solutions specific to their needs. This may mean working directly with their legal and tax advisors to ensure that all i’s are dotted and t’s crossed. We appreciate that in an age when clients hold multiple nationalities, live and work in jurisdictions other than their place of birth that there are no longer one size fits all solutions.

My work is primarily with residential and touristic commercial properties. When I started legal practice in 1996 most property transactions were via property conveyances. Over the years there has been more of a move towards residential properties being held in corporations and as a result residential properties now tend to change ownership via acquisition of shares.

As a small island state there is ever growing concern about the impact of climate change. Our vulnerability to natural disasters – especially hurricanes and earthquakes – means that property insurance rates are increasing. The ever-growing presence of sargassum seaweed is of concern to the tourism sector and can potentially affect investment in that area. There is much more focus by government on climate resilience and the alternative energy sector. Tourism projects receive incentives for imports of alternative energy and energy saving equipment, devices and fittings used for an approved development.

With large commercial projects the main challenges tend to be related to explaining to foreign lenders and foreign counsel the intricacies of our legal system which is classified as a “mixed legal system” comprising both elements of civil law and common law, with much of the island’s property law being contained in a Civil Code and Code of Civil Procedure with roots in a Lower Canada (Quebec) Civil Code. Ultimately, once explained the reservations tend to fall away.

Recently, we were called on to work with a regional law firm to amend security documents for a tourism project where loan repayments had not been made during the Covid-19 Pandemic and the resultant travel bans and border closures. The financial institution had agreed to capitalise interest. We worked closely with Counsel in two other islands to amend and modify loan agreements and the relevant security documents to ensure that this was achieved and that ultimately the objectives of both the financial institution and the borrower were realised. In the world that we now operate in, we have seen how easily things change and we must be prepared to respond adequately to meet the needs of those we serve.

In July 2021 St. Lucia registered international business companies (IBCs) were deemed to be tax residents. This affected structures in which real property was held as the sole or main asset, and by extension how clients wishing to purchase or sell real property are advised.

The ever-changing anti money laundering suite of legislation requires enhanced due diligence both in the legal and banking spheres to ensure that the identity of clients and the course of funds are verified. The Caribbean region has had to effect legislative and other adjustments to ensure that they are in compliance with OECD and other international requirements. This means that timelines for meeting such requirements need to be considered when considering accepting a client and when advising on a transaction.

Legal service providers engaged in real estate are required to ensure that relevant processes and procedures are in place to ensure compliance with anti-money laundering and anti-terrorism legislation and the guidelines produced by the local Financial Intelligence Authority.

Locally, we collaborate with a range of professionals in various fields. As a graduate of the University of the West Indies our Founder/Principal Attorney has access to and has worked with numerous regional firms throughout the Caribbean. As a collaborating member firm of Andersen Global, Athena Law has access to collaborating partners worldwide if required. Our Founder/Principal Attorney has over the course of her 26-year career collaborated with some of the top legal firms in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom.

While there are no immediate new pieces of legislation to be introduced, the introduction of the new Aliens (Landholding) Licence Act in 2020 facilitated a means of residency through an Aliens Investor Entrance Permit for foreign persons acquiring property under that Act. This means that individuals or directors of a company who qualify can remain on the island indefinitely without the need for obtaining and paying for extended stays through the Immigration Department. While this does not give the right to work, it has been very useful for persons wishing to live on the island for extended periods, in particular, during the winter months.

Investing in a small island often comes with much trepidation for many. We have seen too many situations where clients wait until there is a problem to get advice. In most cases clients seek out attorneys to solve problems. With real estate law and investment the right legal advice at the beginning will help you avoid problem and will ensure that you have the right roadmap in place to achieve success.

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